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Cause for Alarm: Slump in Jobs in Electronics
May 18, 1964 Electronics Magazine Article

May 18, 1964 Electronics

May 18, 1964 Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Electronics, published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Nationwide survey shows a decline in opportunities for engineers. Although jobs are fewer and requirements tougher, certain specialists are still in demand. An employment-agency official on Long Island says, "If it weren't for Grumman (Aircraft Corp.), you could just cut Long Island off and let it float into the Atlantic." A Chicago agency that specializes in jobs for engineers advises applicants to relocate and be prepared to drop out of the five-figure salary range. These are typical findings in a coast-to-coast employment survey. Don't panic; these statements are from a 1964 issue of Electronics magazine. Prior to our current Era of Wireless, which, unbeknownst to most people, is a nomenclature that harkens back to a century earlier, it was the defense industry that provided the bulk of plentiful, high-paying engineering and technicianing[sic] jobs in the U.S. A nearly instantaneous, severe cut in both design and manufacturing jobs occurred at the end of World War II, and to a lesser degree at the end of the Korean War. A decade after Korea, with no formal major involvement in a new war (Vietnam didn't really crank up until Johnson took office in late 1963), the defense industry was really struggling. Commercial and consumer electronics companies had absorbed all the laid-off defense types they could use. Fortunately, the Military Industrial Complex got a shot in the arm (oops... poor idiom to use here) once McNamara was running the show, so these kinds of stories disappeared fairly soon thereafter.

Cause for Alarm: Slump in Jobs in Electronics

Employment office at the Van Nuys, California plant of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company - RF Cafe

Employment office at the Van Nuys, California plant of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company is almost deserted. It used to be one of the busiest places at the plant. At right is the Lockheed aerospace ground-equipment engineering department at right.

By June 26, all employees will be gone from the ground-equipment engineering department.

Nationwide survey shows a decline in opportunities for engineers. Although jobs are fewer and requirements tougher, certain specialists are still in demand.

The president of a Boston electronics company reports, "Never since World War II have so many engineers been available."

An employment-agency official on Long Island says, "If it weren't for Grumman (Aircraft Corp.), you could just cut Long Island off and let it float into the Atlantic."

A Chicago agency that specializes in jobs for engineers advises applicants to relocate and be prepared to drop out of the five-figure salary range.

In Orange County, Calif., 88 electronics engineers collect unemployment insurance, in contrast to 19 just nine months earlier.

These are typical findings in a coast-to-coast employment survey by Electronics magazine. With the help of McGraw-Hill news bureau, Electronics queried more than 100 companies, employment agencies and individual engineers in all parts of the country.

Stress on Specialties

There's still demand for engineers who are topnotch specialists in microcircuits and other expanding fields.

"We don't care if a candidate has a Ph.D. in electronics," says the personnel manager for the Hickok Electrical Instrument Co. in Cleveland. "If he doesn't have thorough oscilloscope experience, we don't want him."

A maker of components in New England says he can use 15 or more solid-state engineers right now, plus a manager of microcircuit production. Today the company can afford to be selective.

An official of the Bendix Corp. in Detroit declares, "We don't want a man with specific experience with radios, we want one who has worked with certain parts of a radio."

A few of the work wanted cards on file in one New York City employment agency. Most are from men laid off in the last few months by leading military electronics companies on Long Island.

Along the West Coast's hard-hit aerospace belt, Varian Associates in Palo Alto, Calif., seeks experienced instrument designers. And the semiconductor division of the Fairchild Camera & Instrument Corp. in Mountain View, Calif., has only six openings, all for specialists in developing semiconductor devices.

Arms and the man. Of 155,000 electronics engineers in the United States, about 75% were working on government-supported projects a couple of years ago. As military orders decline, laid-off engineers are having trouble finding new jobs in their narrow specializations. Sometimes they qualify in other areas of electronics, but their salaries are way out of line with their relatively meager experience in these specialties. One estimate is that five percent of design specialists are out of work.

At Cape Kennedy, the antennas are out for engineers with about three years' experience. But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says it has all the management types it needs. There is relatively little research and development now; techniques for firing the birds are well known, and NASA is looking for youngsters who will work for under $8,500 a year.

Other companies are wary of engineers with military backgrounds. The Chrysler Corp., which is advertising for engineers with three to five years' experience in certain specialties, looks askance on victims of defense cutbacks who are willing to take salary cuts at Chrysler. "We don't want a guy who is looking for a way station and then takes off when the rains come again," a Chrysler Official explains.

Selling insurance. The cold employment statistics don't tell the whole story. They don't include, for example, the aerospace engineer who, after two months of unsuccessful job-hunting in electronics, joined an insurance company's sales training program. Nor do they take into account the electronics engineer who now designs mechanized toys. Both men live in California.

Stress on Quality

Few executives agree with the Lockheed Aircraft Corp. Official near New York who sees the present dilemma as "an excuse for companies to clean house - they're cutting out the dead wood." Yet its abundantly clear that accent has shifted from quantity to quality.


A man in charge of hiring engineers with advanced degrees at the Radio Corp. of America says that at least one kind of applicant is still "very much in demand." He describes him as "the kind of man who is going to invent something 10 years from now." As for the engineers with only a bachelor's degree, he adds, "The good ones will still find jobs, but instead of getting six offers, as they did a few years ago, they'll only get three."

In Seattle, where cutbacks at the Boeing Co. have forced 2,500 engineers to leave the area, an official of the Washington State Employment Service complains: "We have 75 openings in electronics from a certain area, but each one is specialized. We may not be able to fill a single one of them from those who are registered with us."

Back to school. In Boston, the IEEE reports increased participation among area engineers. This indicates that more people are worried about their jobs and concerned about keeping up with advances in the field.

A group of employees have asked the Boeing Co. for four hours a week to review the latest technology as preparation for job-hunting.

Members of the Class of '64 are getting fewer job offers than in the past, but there's little worry about being jobless. One straw floating against the tide is Northwestern University, near Chicago, which reports heavier-than-ever recruiting. A total of 699 electronics firms conducted 21,000 interviews in the current school year.

Where to Look

Sitting pretty are these top avionics engineers at Ling-Temco-Vought, Inc., in Dallas. The company won a contract to produce the Navy's new A-7A attack bomber, and is now hiring engineers. Shown D.C. Thomas, electronics project engineer, E.F. Cvetko, deputy program director, and H.J. Luke, electronics engineering specialist.

Young men in electronics are no longer going - or even looking - west. A Boston engineer observes:

"There was a time when, if things got tough in the East, you could always move to the West Coast. All you needed there was a warm body and a degree. Now things are rough there too."

Narrow specializations in the military fields, as well as high salaries, often force engineers to follow the government contracts to the West Coast, Houston and Cape Kennedy, with more hopes than prospects. On the other hand, the International Business Machines Corp. and some other concerns are hiring engineers who have worked with military computers.

Many engineers are taking a fresh look at the Southeast - a region often looked on with disdain. Now the area from Alabama to the tip of Florida has one of the few stable employment situations in America. A new factor in defense employment, this region has firms that are looking hard for good electronics engineers. And to be out of work is no handicap, observers say, if the applicant has kept up with developments in the electronics field.

No romance. The Midwest, which never wooed engineers with the same ardor as did the Pacific Coast, has a relatively stable "mix" of military and civilian industries. Jobs aren't abundant, and pay isn't the best, but unemployment isn't nearly as serious as in New England or the West Coast.

In Cleveland, the engineer who may be slightly disgruntled with his present job is also thankful that he has one. He's not likely to be shopping for another. As in other parts of the country, observers report a premium on professional development and on above-average individual ability.

The brightest picture in the Midwest seems to be in Detroit, where one leading supplier of electronics personnel - the Detroit Engineering Agency - reports that it had no jobless engineers on its rolls at the end of April. The Ford Motor Co. continues to assemble a staff for its research laboratories. The country's second-largest automaker says it's looking for young holders of doctorates or "proven senior individuals."

The strongest demand in the Midwest seems to be for applications engineers, with a trend toward sales also noticeable.

Bottoming Out

The job situation figures to get somewhat worse before it improves. The attrition in some companies is not as apparent as in others, because they can shift their engineers around as the orders change. But new engineers aren't being hired.

Lockheed's Missiles and Space Co., which is moving its aerospace ground equipment group from Van Nuys to Sunnyvale, Calif., is reported to be dropping 200 people a week from the Sunnyvale facility, many of them engineers. About 100 jobs a week are said to be lost through attrition and 100 other employees are laid off. Lockheed expects to cut its employment by 4,000 this year.

One Lockheed official, asked about the future for electronics engineers at the Van Nuys plant, answered, "How do you spell 'kaput'?"

The slump seems to have hit bottom in Florida. The outlook is expected to rise considerably over the next couple of years, especially for the average engineer. But the veterans will still have rough going, because salary increases are likely to slow down sharply, if not cease altogether.

Too much glamor? A California engineer would like to see the electronics field deglamourized. "Young people are encouraged to go into engineering," he notes. "Somebody should start as far back as high-school counseling and say, 'Okay, the field is great, but don't go into it thinking there is real security and plenty of dough.' By the time these kids get out into the field, it will be pretty grim."

A placement official at the University of Southern California says some companies are trying to get by with fewer engineers than in the past, and hiring more trained technicians. "This points to a change in thinking in the educating of engineers," she says.

Bright Spots

A few bright spots are shining through the gloom. But most of them apply only to highly skilled specialists.

Grumman Aircraft, a subcontractor on the new TFX military plane, complains that it can't find enough people with backgrounds in radio-frequency interference.

In Massachusetts, where defense orders have fallen $200 million below last year, the General Radio Co. says it has not slowed down its hiring of sales and development engineers. A company official, at his office near Boston, says: "The door is always open to good engineers. When business is down, that is not the time to trim back your sales effort or development effort."  

Help wanted. "I need people," says a hiring official of Ling-Temco-Vought, Inc., a big diversified company in Dallas. "We are looking for people highly experienced in such areas as r-f engineering and airborne communications equipment." The man with the best future in electronics, according to the Ling-Temco spokesman, is the engineer who has been in small programs for a few years, has stayed around the design board" and has "had to think total systems."

Computer concerns in the Boston area continue to advertise for engineers, a situation prevalent among computer firms in most of the country. The increasing stress on microcircuits is also producing an added demand for engineers, especially those with a good background in semiconductors.

In the Southwest, the three biggest employers of aerospace engineers are all looking for qualified people. They are General Dynamics Corp. in Fort Worth, Tex., Texas Instruments, Inc., in Dallas, and the Bell Helicopter Co., a division of the Bell Aerospace Corp., in Fort Worth. Their need of engineers added to the opportunities at Ling-Temco-Vought is making Texas a Mecca for qualified electronics and aerospace engineers.

The Dollar Sign

Even in Southern California, unemployment hits hardest at certain types of specialized jobs. James Lewis, of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, says: "It is not the engineer in the $10,000 to $12,000 bracket who is having trouble finding a job. It's the man who worked as a project engineer, but without a managerial title, in a large company like Hughes (Aircraft Co.) or Systems Development Corp., drawing a salary in the $20,000 to $25,000 bracket." When he leaves the company, he is often forced into accepting a position at a salary of $10,000 to $15,000."

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, company recruiters have been interviewing engineering students as faithfully as ever. Salary offers are up 3% to 5% from last year. But the Class of '64 has only about half as many offers as its predecessor.

Young and Old

No consistent trend is discernible. as to which age groups are most vulnerable to firing. One company, in the New York area reports that youth is most expendable, in favor of experience. A concern just a few miles away prefers young, lower-paid engineers and is whittling away at some of its higher-priced veterans.

Experienced military engineers in the Denver area are finding that they can't command their usual salaries from any of the civilian concerns.

A young engineer in California reports: "They let guys go who had been here 15 years or so. They laid off senior engineers above me because they were either stagnant or their abilities weren't needed."

The situation is described bluntly by James Kallgren, employment manager at Varian Associates. It doesn't matter whether a man has 10 years with the firm or only one, he says. "If he's no longer useful to Varian, he goes, and it's up to the engineers to keep themselves useful."

Boston - Downturn in hiring of electronics engineers, especially of military oriented engineers. Department of Defense procurement in Massachusetts down $200 million fiscal 1963, compared to fiscal 1962. Some say there's an actual surplus of engineers. But computer companies in Boston area doing quite well; they are advertising for engineers.

New York - The unemployed electronics engineer is in trouble, with no one particular salary or experience classification affected more than another. Some exceptions: IBM is hiring men with backgrounds in military computers. Grumman wants men with radio-frequency interference backgrounds, can't find them. Many high paid men - $16,000 a year, out of work because their specialty is unneeded.

Los Angeles - Severely hit with layoffs by many electronics firms. Lockheed moving its aerospace ground-equipment group out of the area. Electronic Engineering Co. and Collins Radio have reduced staffs. Salary cuts seem a must for five figure men looking for new jobs.

San Francisco - Electronics firms are not doing much hiring because of government spending cuts. Large scale layoffs recently in the area. Lockheed dropping 200 people a week, many of them engineers; will total four thousand this year. Varian Associates cut back heavily. Solid experience and exact specialization needed to find job in the area.

Greater Seattle - Highly specialized opportunities only in this area. Heavy layoffs at Boeing Co. force many engineers to leave the area in search of employment.

Dallas-Fort Worth - Hiring is good in the Southwest, if the man fits the specialty. Ling-Tempco-Vought wants engineers for airborne communications and r-f engineering. Bell Helicopter, Texas Instruments and General Dynamics are also hiring.

Southeastern States - Employment opportunities here are good, mostly in non-defense industry - such as steel, textiles, chemicals. Defense and space agency contracts in this area were few in the past. Thus the unemployment problems besetting electronics engineers in other parts of the country are less accentuated in the Southeast.

Huntsville, Ala. - Openings in NASA for electronics men are few, with applicants carefully screened.

Cape Kennedy - Not a very encouraging picture. Men with specialized experience or good general backgrounds wanted to some extent, but salaries are relatively low for the positions offered. But a big upturn in demand for electronics engineers is expected in the future. Right now, NASA is very selective.

Chicago - Electronics engineers may have to take salary cuts to find work in Chicago, if their experience is not in line with needs. However, military electronics specialists are not wanted. But industrial and consumer electronics firms are not firing - and are hiring some. Demand is for men with directly applicable experience. Needed are applications engineers, men for sales, and field service. Midwest process control industries offer opportunities.

Cleveland - Engineers are sitting tight, holding on to the jobs they have without much chance to advance by changing positions. To obtain new jobs, experience must tailor-fit the work. Most industrial firms find their needs stable, are not hiring.

Denver - Martin Co. is letting engineers go, particularly the below-average man.

Detroit - Only the low-level, limited-ability engineer is in trouble in this area. Chrysler is hiring, but is not too eager to hire military-experienced electronics engineers even if they are willing to take a pay cut. They'll consider related experience, however, when their hard-to-fit, new specialties can't be met. Ford Motor Co. is hiring but looks for men with a flair for innovation - and wants substantial proof of this. Bendix is laying off because of a lack of government work, however.

Salt Lake City - Sperry is laying off because of a cutback on the Sergeant missile. New jobs are not available in the immediate area.



Posted July 26, 2019

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